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Boats

by Cristiano D'Adamo


Operational Life

1940

The first war patrol of the submarine Finzi took place from the port of Cagliari, Sardinia on June 5th, 1940 (5 days before the official declaration of war). The boat reached the patrol zone off the Canary Islands and then returned to the Sardinian base on July 10th. The night of June 12th, when it was approaching Point Almina, the Finzi was attacked by the British destroyer H.M.S. Watchman, which forced Captain Dominici to remain submerged. Avoiding the attack, the crossing continued on the surface at a speed of about 12 knots with favorable weather conditions and no moonlight. The crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar took place without problems, and once in the assigned area, the boat did not encounter any enemy vessel. The mission of the Finzi had been planned in synchrony with the Cappellini, but this boat was forced to take refuge in Ceuta after an enemy attack. Despite the absence of tangible results, the mission was undoubtedly useful in assessing the British defensive network and confirming the possibility of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar without any particular problem. As a matter of fact, during the conflict not a single Italian submarine was lost during the crossing of the narrow strait.

Once back in Italy, the Finzi was assigned to the newly established Atlantic base of Bordeaux. The boat was part of the first transfer group from the domestic bases to the Acquitaine capital. This group included the Dandolo, Marconi, and Bagnolini, while the Barbarigo had already completed the transfer. On September 7th, the boat left La Spezia under the command of C.C. Alberto Dominici to cross the Strait of Gibraltar between the 12th and the 13th. Once off Vigo, the boat was attacked by an enemy aircraft which caused the loss of two crewmembers. Later on, Captain Dominici was able to alude an incoming enemy destroyer. Failing to detect enemy traffic, the Finzi left the patrol area and reached Bordeaux on the 29th of September. The arrival of the first Italian submarines in Bordeaux was received with great enthusiasm by the German ally.

On September 30th, Admiral Donitz, who practically was in charge of the Italian naval forces in the Atlantic even though they had some level of autonomy, conducted an official visit of the Bordeaux base of the Regia Marina. The admiral participated in a parade of six crews and personally visited two boats, the Finzi and the Malaspina. This was not a superficial visit, but direct contact between an old submariner and the enthusiastic crews and officers of the Italian vessels.

Taking into consideration the greater range, better habitability and better performances (this factor would be later reevaluated) of the Italian submarines, Donitz decided that the Italian sharks would conduct operations between 58 20 N and 51 N and between 20 W and 27 W. This quadrant was west of the operational area occupied by the Germans and extended from the British Isles west. Eventually, due to operational reasons, the Italian area was shifted about 100 miles east, closer to the Scottish coast.

The Finzi, still under the command of C.C. Dominici, took to the sea for its first mission in the North Atlantic as part of the Bagnolini group. The vessel left mooring in Bordeaux on October 24th, 1940 along with the Bagnolini and the Baracca, while the Marconi took to the sea three days later. On October 30th, while the boat was still in transfer, west of the British Isles, the crew sighted a ship of about 3,000 t. at about 10,000 meters (quite a distance). The captain ordered a dive, but rough sea conditions made the vessel come up to the surface, thus allowing the merchant ship to become aware of the danger. After having fired a torpedo, which failed the target, the submarine was subjected to depth charge attacks (there were nine explosions) by the escorting units, without incurring any damage. Continuing its mission, Captain Dominici reached the patrol area on the 31st of the same month. After more than two weeks of back and forth navigation, on November 16th Betasom finally transmitted a discovery signal. The boat immediately began the approach, but it had to desist due to the horrible weather conditions. Two days later, another signal brought the diesel to a frenetic tempo while the vessel desperately sought to close on the enemy convoy. Unfortunately, marine fog and enemy aircraft called for diving and seeking refuge in the abyss. Later, having detected the speed of the convoy and believing this to be too high, Captain Dominici abandoned the chase.

On the 22nd, while the ocean exploded ever more violently into whitecaps of gale force 8 or 9, the lookouts (very unpleasant job) detected the presence of a ship. After having dove to periscope depth (a maneuver typical of the Italian boats but not adopted by the Germans, who preferred remaining on the surface), the captain understood the challenges of keeping the boat hidden, thus giving up any bellicose intentions, and sought the security of the abyss. From the hydrophones, the crew detected the presence of a convoy of 10 or more ships escorted by auxiliary cruisers (recognizable by the alternative engines instead of the turbines installed on light units) and also the explosions of some depth charges far away.
This litany of sighting, rough seas, and inability to attack continued until the 27th of November when, after having avoided a destroyer, the Finzi began the return voyage returning to Bordeaux on December 4th after having avoided an attack from a British submarine near the coast. The mission was certainly a failure, but at the same time the inability to conduct attacks was attributed to the deficiencies of the technical means more than the men. In particular, it was discovered that the air intake (mushroom valve) for the diesel engines was too exposed to the weather, forcing the use of the hatch on the turret. If the hutch shut, the crew suffered from a sudden loss of pressure due to the sucking action of the motor, but with the hatch open, tons of water would infiltrate inside the hull, causing damage and inconvenience. Practically, it had been quickly realized that the Italian boats were not designed for the terrible weather conditions of the North Atlantic.

1941

After the failed expectations in the north, the Italian submarines were relocated more to the south near Madera, the Strait of Gibraltar, Freetown, and the other islands of the mid-Atlantic. The first boat to be sent off Freetown was the Cappellini, and the Finzi followed it. Still under the command of C.C. Dominici, the Finzi left Bordeaux on March 10th, 1941 to patrol west of the Canary islands and east of the Island of Capo Verde (17 W, 21 W). Unfortunately, after several days of patrol in various areas and without having encountered any enemy traffic, the Finzi began the return voyage, reaching the Atlantic base on April 17th after the short mission. During this patrol Captain Dominici had discovered some convoys which were not attacked due to the presence of escort vessels. It is not known if the Italian command interpreted this lack of results by C.C. Dominici in negative terms, but at the end of the fruitless patrol he was transferred and C.V. Ugo Giudice assumed the command of the vessel. The first mission of the new skipper took place in the waters off Freetown and in coordination with the Marconi, the Tazzoli of Commander Fecia di Cossato, and the Calvi. Departing on August 1st, the Finzi reached the patrol area off the Strait of Gibraltar, 100 miles from Cape San Vincenzo. Without having accomplished any action, the boat returned to base at the end of the same month.


On December 7th, the Finzi was again in action, this time to participate, between the 7th and the 29th, in the rescue of the crewmembers of the German raider “Atlantis” and the auxiliary cruiser “Python”. Due to special circumstances, the Italian boat brought the rescued sailors back to Saint-Nazaire instead of Le Verdon. The Torelli, Finzi, Tazzoli and Calvi transferred from the U-Boot 254 sailors utilizing rubber dinghy with which the German boats were equipped.

1942

After alterations made to the vessel (increased number of torpedoes, projectiles, fuel and supplies), the Finzi took again to the sea from Le Verdon on February 6th, 1942. Within a few days from the base, the crew had to repair one of the thermal engines. This repair work took over six days and was performed under particularly difficult circumstances. Due to this breakdown, on February 10th the captain could not attack a convoy. On the 28th of the same month, Betasom changed the boat’s final destination from the Bahamas to the Caribbean Sea. On March 3rd, the Finzi reached Mona Pass, but a serious failure of one of the exhaust manifolds’ shutoff valves prompted the relocation of the boat to an area not as much covered by the enemy aerial reconnaissance. The repairs required four days, and during this period the boat intercepted a tanker which could not be attacked. At this point, the crew discovered that both periscopes had failed and that the forward planes (used to control depth) were out of service and operated only sporadically.

Despite the mechanical failures, on the 6th of March 1942 the Finzi sank the French tanker MELPOMESE of 7.011 t. with four torpedoes (and not 7.001 as suggested by some sources). This tanker belonged to “Compagnie Ausiliarie de Navigation” and was built by “Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde” of Bordeaux in 1923 and had been in service to the MoWT (Ministry of War Transport) since 1940. The sinking took place in position 23° 35’N, 62° 39’W and all 49 crewmembers were later saved.

Soon after, the Finzi intercepted another ship, the Swedish steamship SKÅNE of 4,528 t. which was sunk the night of March 6th with three torpedoes and a few gun shells. This old steamship (passenger and freight) was built in 1921 by the shipyard “A/B Lindholmens” of Gothenburg, Sweden and belonged to the shipping company “Translatlantic, Rederiaktiebolaget”, also of Gothenburg. The Skåne had changed name in 1941 and at the time of the sinking the ship was known as the “Boren”. Some authors erroneously state that the Boren did not fall victim to the Finzi, but this is confirmed and it took place in position 20° 50’N, 62° 05’W. All 36 crewmembers were rescued.

Two days later, on March 10th, the Finzi began moving to a location previously agreed to transfer oil fuel to the Morosini. During this transfer, the crew sighted a tanker which was promptly sunk with six torpedoes. The motor tanker in question was the Norwegian CHARLES RACINE of 9,957 t. , built in 1937 by the shipyard “Odense Staalskibsvaerft” of Odense, Denmark and belonging to the “Skibs-A/S Snefonn”. The torpedoing took place in position 23° 10’N, 60° 28’W, and all 41 crewmembers were later rescued. On March 13th, after having transferred 21 tons of fuel to the Morosini, the Finzi began the long return journey, reaching Le Verdon in the afternoon of March 31, completing a certainly successful patrol.

After the well-earned rest and the necessary repair work, the Finzi was once again sent off the American coasts, this time along with the Tazzoli. The boat left base on June 6th, 1942 to reach Cuba and Santo Domingo. On June 20th, the submarine received 11 tons of oil fuel from the Da Vinci which was returning to base. Eventually, this fuel was later transferred to the Morosini. On July 9th, the Finzi reached the patrol area off the Crooked Island Passage (Bahamas) and then moved to the Windham Passage, and later off Haiti. The night of the 12th, the crew sighted a large passenger ship escorted by light units and airplanes which was not attacked.

After some relocations, on the 19th the submarine returned off the Island of Crooked. On the 20th it sighted a fast tanker escorted by destroyers which was not attacked. On the 23rd, the Finzi transferred 50 tons of oil fuel and 5 tons of drinking water to the Giuliani. On the 27th it transferred more oil fuel to the Morosini. On the 29th of July the boat failed to hit with any of the three torpedoes launched a passenger ship moving at about 18 knots. On the 31st, having run out of fuel, the boat began the return voyage. Despite the intense enemy aerial patrol off the estuary of the Gironde, the Finzi reached Bordeaux in the afternoon of August 18 without any inconvenience.

After the necessary maintenance work, the Finzi took again to the sea with the Tazzoli leaving on November 26th destined for Brazil. During refitting, T.V. Angelo Amendola had assumed the command. Unfortunately, on December 10th the various breakdowns detected aboard forced the boat back to base.

1943

During the maintenance period, there was another change of command; T.V. Amendola disembarked and was replaced by T.V. Mario Rossetto. Repair work completed, the boat left on February 11th, 1943 along with the Da Vinci for a mission off the African coast and the Indian Ocean. On March 18th, when the Finzi was ready to meet the Da Vinci for a conspicuous exchange of fuel, foodstuff, and more to allow the other submarine to continue on its mission well past the Cape of Good Hope , T.V. Rossetto sighted the British ship Lulworth and three torpedoes. Unfortunately, all weapons failed to operate properly.

The Finzi had to interrupt the chase of the merchant ship due to the failure of both diesel engines. At the same time the meeting with the Da Vinci was taking place, thus Rossetto gave Gazzana all the information so that he could chase, attack and sink the merchant ship. After the sinking, the Da Vinci took 90 tons of oil fuel, 6 tons of oil, 10 tons of drinking water, 3 small 450 mm torpedoes and foodstuff.

In the afternoon of March 28th, the Finzi intercepted and sank the Greek steamship GRANICOS of 3,689 tons. The sinking took place in position 02° N 15° 30’W, 30 crewmembers were lost and one, a Portuguese, was captured by the Finzi.
Captain Rossetto wrote to us saying that " The Granikos, loaded with iron ore, sank in very little time, less than 30 seconds, and for this reason most probably the crew did not have the opportunity to lower the life boats and could not save themselves, except Jaquim Rodriguez. He, holding on to a small piece of wood, was calling for help but hiding whenever the submarine search light was passing by because he was afraid of being machine gunned. Before departing Rio de Janeiro, the crew had been told that "submarines machine gunned shipwrecked sailors!".


In the afternoon of March 29th (and not the 30th as cited by some sources), the Finzi sank the British ship CELTIC STAR of 5,575 tons. This old ship, built in 1918 by “Dunlop, Bremner & Co” of Glasgow was previously known as the Celtistar (1929) and Campana (1918). The ship belonged to “Union Cold Storage Co. Ltd” and the sinking took place in position 16° N, 17° 44’W. Two crewmembers died, a Canadian was captured, and the remaining 63 were later rescued. On April 18th the Finzi reached the estuary of the river Gironde and, while under escort by a German minesweeper, it triggered a magnetic mine which exploded under the keel at about 30 meters deep. Damages were minor, and the boat arrived in Le Verdon (at the estuary of the Gironde) without further problems. The mission, considering the transfer of fuel and the two sinkings, was considered a success. Unfortunately, the Da Vinci did not return to base.

Following negotiations with the Germans, the Finzi was one of the seven submarines designated to be transformed into transports. Supposedly, the idea of transforming these boats originated with C.V. Enzo Grossi, then commander of the base, who had realized that these submarines were no longer fitted for offensive operations. Grossi made a proposal to Adm. Donitz: in exchange for the seven Italian submarines, the Germans would transfer seven newly constructed U-boats to the Italian Navy. Although it could appear that the proposal was preposterous, it was actually warmly welcomed, especially because the Germans were producing a boat a day, but did not have enough personnel to man them.

As part of the final agreement reached between the two navies, the Krisgmarine transferred seven U-boats of the class VII-c (designated by the Italians as class ‘S’) in exchange of an equivalent number of Italian boats which, due to their dimensions, were better suited for the long voyage to Japan. Of the seven boats, only five began the journey. This operation was completely under German control, and the boats were assigned a German name, but retained their Italian crew. Of the five boats, the Tazzoli was lost soon after its departure, while the Barbarigo was probably lost soon after. Both losses were never documented and remain a mystery to these days. The two remaining transport submarines, the Bagnolini and the Finzi, were trapped by the events surrounding the Italian surrender while still in Bordeaux and never left.


The alterations made to the various boats were different; guns were removed, ammo depots were turned into oil depots. The attack periscope was removed, one of the heads and most of the on-board amenities were also removed to give room for goods. Work aboard the Finzi was completed in Le Verdon’s shipyard and the command transferred from T.V. Rosetto to T.V. Nicola Dellino. On September 8th, the boat was still in Bordeaux, delayed with various excuses by the Germans who had sensed the imminent Italian surrender. Considering the precarious condition of the vessel and the advanced decay of the machinery, the German Navy decided not to utilize the boat. On July 25th 1944, during the German retreat, demolition specialists of the Kriegsmarine scuttled the Finzi in the port of Le Verdon.

Our special thanks to Captain Rossetto for providing us with some corrections and additional information.
Edited by Laura K. Yost


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